A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Stewardship Series 3 ~ James 1:19-25
Last week we were all about sheep and goats and this week we’re all about hearers and doers. But unlike last week where we were supposed to choose one or the other, and picking the right one was really important (sheep!), this week we’re supposed to be both.
We are called to be both hearers of the word and doers of the word. So let’s have a look at it.
United Church folks have a long and proud history of being doers. And Faith United folks are United Church through and through. We are champion doers. We are instinctively more Martha than Mary. One of the things United Church types are best at doing is justice. At General Council this summer I can’t think of a single proposal that encouraged us into more hearing – but there were a truckload about doing more justice.
So it’s really interesting that today’s scripture passage doesn’t start with doing but rather with hearing. And it begins with a truth that should be really obvious, but it’s really hard for us to adhere to.
James 1:19-20 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.
Quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.
Does that sound like how we usually do it?
Not in my experience – and especially not if you’re using social media – in the comment sections it’s too often the exact opposite.
Quick to listen also means ready to hear.
It’s meant to convey an immediacy, a readiness, a predisposition to listening, to hearing. Our modern problem isn’t really that we never listen, it’s that we tend to listen the wrong way. Our usual thing is that as we’re listening to someone we’re already formulating our response in our heads, planning what we’re going to say next.
That’s not really listening – it’s more like pre-talking! And it puts the focus on you yourself and what you’re going to add instead of putting the focus on what the other is offering.
So James makes sure we get it right by not just saying we ought to be quick to listen but that we also must be slow to speak.
Give it space to breathe.
Let the offering sink in.
Don’t be afraid of silence.
Don’t be in such a hurry to fill up every moment with your brilliance.
Let it be about someone else for a minute.
Let it be.
It sounds simple enough, but for a bunch of doers like us just being a hearer at first is a tall order!
You have heard it said, “Don’t just sit there, do something!” – but the bible says, “Don’t just do something, sit there!”
Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. The Greek word for speak here is interesting. There’s a much more common way to say speak in Greek. Instead, the unique word used here also carries the meaning of chattering or prattling on. Be quick, or ready, to listen and hear deeply, and be slow, or unhurried, and take your time before leaping into chattering.
I think if we did that better, if we were slower to speak (or furiously type) we’d probably do better at the slow to anger part too.
So far I’ve angled this toward human interpersonal communication – quick to listen to what someone is saying, slow to chatter back at them, slow to stand in opposition to their ideas. But as we go on through this chapter in James we discover that he’s talking about a different kind of listening – or at least, a different source.
James 1:21 says: Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and [any abundance] of wickedness, and welcome with [gentleness and humility] the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
James has taken us to a whole other level. It’s not just my words you should be quick to listen to (although, obviously you should!) – it’s the implanted word.
The implanted word.
I think you know exactly what he means.
That word, that holy word, that holy Presence, that is implanted deep in your heart.
Who do you think implanted that word in you? Don’t look at me! Look deeper!
It’s a holy thing from God.
And if you have a holy thing from God implanted deep within you – maybe we might call that God’s image imprinted upon your very soul – then you definitely want to welcome it with gentleness and humility – and you definitely want to get rid of the cruddy stuff within you that tends to hide or mar that implanted word – and you definitely want to be quick to notice it, and listen to it, and hear it, and focus on it, and not so much on what you’re going to say back, and hopefully very little about standing in opposition or anger to it.
Friends, we have all received a holy, implanted word from God – it is the word of God – it is God’s very Presence deep within us – it has been with us since our first moment – and we’d be wise to be incredibly attentive to that word, and really hear it, and really connect with it.
I guess that was the problem that James was trying to address in his community in his day. It sounds to me like they were a church that was so enthralled by this implanted word that they sat around all day staring dreamily into the heavens and feeling good about themselves and how blessed they were.
His church really did seem to have a “Don’t just sit there, do something” problem.
In James 1:22 he warns: But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
Our United Church of Canada, I think, tends to have the opposite problem. We like to skip right over the hearing part (you know, because we know that stuff already) and roll up our sleeves and get to the doing!
And don’t worry, this is a stewardship series where my primary goal is to invite you into participating more deeply in our mission, so I’m going to get to the doing part any second now – I just want us to spend a bit more time thinking about the hearing.
Yes, I want us to be doers of the word.
But to do the word don’t you have to have really heard the word to know what you’re supposed to be doing?
Be doers of the implanted word of God in your hearts.
What does that word say?
What is that word about?
Well, let’s say this. The word for word here is logos. The logos of God is a complex idea that means the image of God, the message of God, the love of God, and the mission of God all rolled up together.
John chapter 1 – In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God.
That’s what’s implanted!
And there’s only one way to access that implanted, imprinted word – prayer – which can take the form of silence, meditation, worship – all those ways we pause and focus our spirit on the Holy Spirit.
Ok, now that we’ve taken the time to hear, we can get on with our doing. In what ways might we “do” the word we’ve heard? In the end we’re going to land on very pragmatic and practical ways to be doers.
Last week we talked at length about the mission of God through this church and we focused primarily on the incredible breadth and diversity of the ministries of this church through which you all share the love of God. I won’t run the list again, but it’s a pretty awesome and inspiring list! And you do it because first you are hearers of the word, and then you become inspired to be doers. It’s one of the reasons Faith United is so healthy.
Today I want us to think a bit more globally too. I mentioned this last week but didn’t dwell on it.
We are called not just to be hearers of the word but to be doers – and we take that to heart – and we look at the world, and all the pain, and injustice, and trouble, and hardships, and our hearts are broken, and we want to fix it all!
Of course we do!
We want to share Christ’s love with everyone so they can have a better life.
But there’s so much need out there that it can be paralyzing.
Where does one start?
I’ve heard the word, I’m ready to do, but there’s so much to do that I don’t know what to do! It can actually be discouraging.
It can feel like my tiny little drop of helping won’t make a difference in an ocean of need.
That’s when it’s helpful to remember that we’re not alone. It’s not just us here at Faith United that are trying to take God’s love and change the world for the better. We are part of a body – the body of Christ. Ours takes the shape of this church and our denomination, but even that is just a part of the larger body of Christ worldwide.
And even as I say that, I want us to remember that our little part of the body really matters.
And every little bit we do contributes.
And every little bit more we contribute helps that little bit more! (Yes, he’s talking about money now!)
The two main ways we are connected to that wider body of Christ – other than prayer, of course – are through our denominational work and our Mission and Service Fund. And both of those are primarily supported through our dollars.
So yes, part of my message to you today is that to be a doer of the word requires being a giver of your resources. It certainly would never start there, and I don’t want to get stuck there, but going there is absolutely essential.
Mission takes money.
The body of Christ needs financial resources to do the work – to do the word.
One last thing – that word doers needs some attention. The word field that doers encompasses is interesting.
It means one who performs, or who makes, or who carries something out – those are the obvious meanings.
But the word also carries the connotation of being a poet! I love that part! It really changes the meaning of the passage in really helpful ways for me.
Be doers of the word and not just hearers.
Be poets of the word and not just receivers.
A doer is a functionary.
It doesn’t have to be, but it can sound kind of pedantic, boring, one who just executes some task that needed doing.
Now, it’s a holy task, and the doing is doing love, but it doesn’t necessarily inspire.
Just do it. Git ’er done.
Being a poet though – that’s got creativity and inspiration written all over it!
You are not a mere functionary, you’re a poet!
A poet of the word of God that has been implanted in your heart.
A poet who isn’t just a doer but is also a lover. An artist.
Poets follow this passage intuitively. They are first hearers of the word – quick to listen and slow to speak. Inspiration must precede action for a poet, otherwise they don’t know what to write about. And a poet that only ever thinks about their poetry but doesn’t ever get around to doing any isn’t really very useful, or poetic.
No, poets show it!
The body of Christ has known all kinds of poets.
Some are obvious – musicians who write hymns and anthems, preachers, theologians, prophets, mystics.
But I think perhaps the most important poets are the ones we never imagine are poets, but they actually are! And sometimes it takes our poets to show us the poets among us.
Teresa of Avila, a sixteenth-century Spanish mystic (a poet), wrote, “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the world; yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good; yours are the hands with which God is to bless people now.”
You are the body of Christ.
Christ’s mission is your mission.
You are God’s feet and hands and heart.
Your mission is to love – to share the love implanted in you.
All are called to participate – in ever greater ways.
All are called to be doers of the word and not just hearers.
And more than doers, be poets of the word.
And don’t keep your poetry to yourself.
Poets show it!